Emergent Discourse: Is Love Capitalistic?

Hi all,

So I just finished reading Gish Jen’s Mona in the Promised Land, which was an incredibly funny and all-around great book. Jen touches on really interesting themes such as the constructed nature of identity and what it means to be “American” but one (odd) point that stuck with me was her commentary on love. Not to give away too many spoilers, Mona and her friend Barbara end up falling for a boy named Seth who (initially) adheres to a code of “free love.” He does not believe in boyfriend girlfriend labels or that relationships should be exclusive. In the novel both Mona and Barbara express considerable discomfort and anxiety about this hippie-esque philosophy and yearn for the ability to call Seth their boyfriend. So this really led me to ponder about the implications of love. If we want an exclusive relationship isn’t that similar to claiming our significant other as private property and demanding sole possession of at least sexual, romantic relations to that person? I am definitely not belittling or condemning this form of love (because I would certainly want an exclusive relationship) but doesn’t this make love capitalistic? Also, what would be the alternative? Is free love then a form of “communism”? This was just a random epiphany so I’m really interested in hearing what other people have to say about love? Does reexamining love in the context of capitalism make anyone feel a little uncomfortable?- I know I was a little weirded out by that revelation…

Abstract: Gish Jen’s The Love Wife (2005)

This is the abstract for a paper I recently presented at the National Conference on Undergraduate Research in Missoula, Montana.

Reemerging Histories: Destabilizing Normative Models of Kinship, Identity and Nationality in Gish Jen’s The Love Wife

Family and identity are consistently linked to a conception of nationality—one that emphasizes the importance of cultural and biological ties as rooted in particular locales. However, as globalization facilitates the blurring of bodies and boundaries, the resulting changes suggest a need to re-conceptualize figurations of kinship and the self. This paper examines how Jen’s The Love Wife (2005) destabilizes normative constructions of family, identity and nationality, ushering in new modes for negotiating operant transnational dimensions. Her portrayal of Blondie and Carnegie’s family exemplifies American diversity through the interracial marriage of a Caucasian female and Chinese-American male, a union further complicated by the couple’s adopted and biological children. But rather than painting an idealized portrait of the “new” American family, Jen presents readers with a model of multiculturalism in crisis, illustrating how repressed histories contest current kinship practices. I argue that these reemerging histories create a rupture in the family that transforms it from a private to transnational space, opening a discourse between cultures that allows for a reexamination of kinship and identity across national boundaries. Therefore, as Jen exposes the flaws in this “multicultural” family, rending it apart and reconstructing it in a globalized context, she not only alters our understanding of kinship and identity, but also re-imagines America. By perceiving family and nation from a transnational framework, where complex histories intersect and overlap, where racial and ethnic differences are acknowledged rather than repressed, it becomes possible to create new models for self and national identification. Ultimately, through my analysis of The Love Wife, I will demonstrate how Jen transforms our understanding of “ethnic” narratives as merely localized texts, compelling them to be recognized as part of an American literature that is, at its heart, fundamentally global.

Works Consulted:

Chen, Shu-ching. “Disjuncture at Home: Mapping the Domestic Cartographies of Transnationalism in Gish Jen’s The Love Wife.” Tamkang Review. 37.2 (Winter 2006): 1-32. Print.

Chuh, Kandice. “Introduction: On Asian American Culture.” Imagine Otherwise: On Asian American Critique. Durham: Duke University Press, 2003. 1-29. Print.

_____. “Nikkei Internment: Determined Identities/ Undecidable Meanings.” Imagine Otherwise: On Asian American Critique. Durham: Duke University Press, 2003. 58-84. Print.

Geyh, Paula E. “Assembling Postmodernism: Experience, Meaning and the Space In-Between.” College Literature. 30.2 (2003): 1-29. Print.

Grice, Helena. “Transracial Adoption Narratives: Prospects and Perspectives.” Meridians: Feminism, Race, Transnationalism. 5.2 (2005): 124-148. Print. (Annotation)

Jameson, Fredric. “Foreward.” The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge. Trans. Geoff Bennington and Brian Massumi. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984. vii-xxi. Print.

Lowe, Lisa. “Decolonization, Displacement, Disidentification: Writing and the Question of History.” Immigrant Acts: On Asian American Cultural Politics. Durham: Duke University Press, 1996. 97-127. Print.

_____. “Heterogeneity, Hybridity, Multiplicity: Asian American Differences.” Immigrant Acts: On Asian American Cultural Politics. Durham and London: Duke University Press, 1996. 60-83. Print. (Annotation)

_____. “Imagining Los Angeles in the Production of Multiculturalism.” Immigrant Acts: On Asian American Cultural Politics. Durham: Duke University Press, 1996. 84-96. Print.

_____. “Immigration, Citizenship, Racialization: Asian American Critique.” Immigrant Acts: On Asian American Cultural Politics. Durham: Duke University Press, 1996. 1-36. Print.

Lyotard, Jean-Francois. “Answering the Question: What is Postmodernism?” The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge. Trans. Regis Durand. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984. 71-82. Print.

O’Brien, Susie and Imre Szeman. “Introduction: The Globalization of Fiction/ the Fiction of Globalization.” The South Atlantic Quarterly. 100.3 (Summer 2001): 2002. Print.

Palumbo-Liu, David. “Multiculturalism Now: Civilization, National Identity and Difference Before and After September 11th.” Boundary 2. 29.2 (Summer 2002): 109-127. Print.

Partridge, Jeffrey F. L. “Adoption, Interracial Marriage, and Mixed-Race Babies: The New America in Recent Asian American Fiction.” MELUS. 30.2 (Summer 2005): 242-251. Print.

Perez-Torres, Rafael. “Knitting and Knotting the Narrative Thread—Beloved as Postmodern Novel.” Modern Fiction Studies. 39.3-4 (Fall/ Winter 1993): 689-707. Print.

_____. “Nomads and Migrants: Negotiating a Multicultural Postmodernism.” Cultural Critique. 26 (Winter 1993-1994): 161-189. Print.

Schiller, Nina Glick Eds. Towards a Transnational Perspective on Migration: Race Class, Ethnicity, and Nationalism Reconsidered. New York: New York Academy of Sciences, 1992. Print.

Annotation: Helena Grice’s “Transracial Adoption Narratives” (2005)

Peer-Review: 0

This annotation was written in reference to my CUNY Pipeline Thesis, titled: “Reemerging Histories: Destabilizing Normative Models of Kinship, Identity and Nationality in Gish Jen’s The Love Wife.” See my prospectus here.

Grice, Helena. “Transracial Adoption Narratives: Prospects and Perspectives.” Meridians: Feminism, Race, Transnationalism. 5.2 (2005): 124-148. Print.

In this article, Grice describes the challenges of transracial adoption for both parents and children, paying particular attention to cases from China. By analyzing these narratives, she reveals the complex issues that surround transracial adoption. For instance, the difficulty of “birth heritage,” both from the perspective of parents trying to expose adopted children to their cultural heritage and the children’s own efforts to negotiate these ancestral and American customs (136). Grice also explains the importance of naming in the adoption procedure, the complexity that arises between keeping a child’s Chinese name or anglicizing it to provide a new identity (138). However, the most relevant issue Grice discusses in terms of my own project is the significant role race plays in the adoption process, since it is the “most obvious marker of difference between a transracially adopted child and her parents” (141). In Jen’s novel we witness the racial divides in terms of Blondie’s relationship with her adopted Asian daughters, Lizzy and Wendy. Lan’s appearance in their family seems to heighten these racial tensions by forcing Blondie to acknowledge her own physical differences and the barriers these differences create. She instead learns to look at her family through the eyes of an outsider, which forces her to recognize the persisting racial tensions that she has thus far tried to ignore.